Brexit: Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:11 pm on 20th November 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative 6:11 pm, 20th November 2018

My Lords, I entirely understand the strength of feeling of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, having devoted a few years of my life to ensuring the right of Northern Ireland to be part of the United Kingdom by virtue of the democratic wish of the people of Northern Ireland. Clearly, the issues we are discussing now are of great concern to them.

I start as a remainer. With many others, I felt the shock of that referendum result: unplanned, unexpected and coming with various promises and assurances which had no justification, as has now been proved to be the case. Having recognised that, we in this House now have a responsibility to decide the right way forward. There is a great nation out there which is bemused, confused and does not understand most of the issues involved but is deeply unhappy about the way in which personal hostility and argument is springing up within families in all different parts of our kingdom.

I agree with the Prime Minister that there are three options. One is to remain, one is to have no deal, the third is somehow to find our way through to a deal that can be acceptable to the greatest number of our people.

Although I am a remainer, I simply do not think that it is realistic to have a second referendum. The referendum stands. I look at our history in the European Union, when our position was as leader of the “larger but looser” brigade, the people who were not looking for ever-closer union within Europe. That position would now be completely undermined if we were to reappear, when it was always felt to be part of our strength that we warned them that if we did not get a sensible outcome, we would probably leave. If we came back begging to be part of the Union again, it would be very difficult. Our arguments have taken place against the background of some evidence in the European Union, not least from President Macron, of a determination to establish a much closer union in the field of defence as well. That is not an easy or acceptable option.

The second option is no deal. Of course, there have been masses of scare stories: the risk that Dover will be locked solid, that planes will not fly, that there will be food and medicine shortages and that the Army will be guarding petrol stations. They may be scare stories, but if you read the explainer document, it brings home very clearly the enormous number of issues that must be covered which, if we had no deal, could give rise to various serious difficulties. That is before one even discusses the impact of no deal on the City of London; on industry, especially the just-in-time industry; and on postponing decisions, either cancelling new investment or otherwise delaying it. I know about that personally. How can a sensible board of directors, with all the uncertainty, embark on major investment at this time?

The third option is to continue to work on the deal. As the Prime Minister found to her cost, everyone can find something wrong with the deal. She learned that over three hours of parliamentary exposure of the different items therein. Against that, some of us had the opportunity to read the explainer document, if not the major, massive tome. I was impressed by some of the things in it. I thought that the paragraphs on the common foreign and security policy, on security-related sensitive information and on participation in the transition period showed evidence of sensible negotiation between two sides trying to find a way forward. It is against that background that I do not suffer from the same neuralgic reaction that every mention of the ECJ must be very bad news. We have lived with it for 40 years, and a year or two more I do not find totally unacceptable if it leads to a successful outcome and final independence.

The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, talked about the problem of the backstop, and the only other issue that I raise is exactly that raised by my noble friend Lord Howard: the lock-in and not having the option. That is obviously the issue that must be tackled—I hope that the Minister will tackle it in winding up—because, in the end, we are an independent nation. In the end, we could take the law into our own hands, but that is the last thing one would want. One would want sensible arrangements in which our position could be recognised.